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Lifting pain

Sara Fleming went from lifting regularly to being unable to bench an empty bar without pain. This is how she got her life back.


Height: 5’ 7
Before // Age: 45, Weight: 175
After // Age: 45, Weight: 158


I’d been coaching and competing in strength sports for 10 years. As a mom and a coach, I tend to overstretch myself and dedicate a lot of time to my athletes and my family. Unfortunately, these past two years, my own training had become mostly an afterthought. I competed and trained infrequently and did not address a lot of the nagging injuries and strength imbalances I was developing as a result. I went from lifting regularly, training for a half marathon, and competing in the Highland Games to being unable to bench an empty bar without pain or even do a pull-up. Walking up or down stairs was impossible without severe knee pain. And after four months of inactivity, I gained 20lbs.


One sobering day after the New Year, I stood in front of a mirror in just my underwear and took a long hard look. I did not like what I saw – I looked old and broken. It was clear I wasn’t healthy and everything hurt.


As a powerlifting coach, I know bodybuilding is one of the best rehab activities you can give a strength athlete who is feeling the abuse of their practice. Likewise, I knew I had to lose a good bit of body fat. When I combined those two things, the answer to my problem became easy. And I knew that in order to be successful, I needed to hire a good figure coach for both direction and accountability.


One thing I know about myself is that I am always more committed when working towards a competition goal. Although I’d never seen myself as a figure competitor, I knew it was the kind of challenge that would motivate me. One of the best ways to get me to do something is to tell me I can’t do it. And a lot of people told me that up front when I shared my plan. So, I dug in hard and started to prepare for my success.


1. I cut back my coaching schedule and many of the extraneous activities I was involved in. Saying “no” is something us moms don’t often do, but it’s so empowering when you do it.

2. I prep-cooked a lot of protein at the beginning of each week and made sure my refrigerator was always stocked with low-fat protein and carb sources as well as easy-to-prepare fruits and vegetables.

3. I researched the fast food and chain restaurants I visit and made a list of items I could order that would fit the needs of my diet.


Meal 1: 1 slice Pepperidge Farm hearty white bread, 3.5oz sliced chicken breast, 1 egg, 1 tomato, 16oz cup Fairlife skim milk, 1 cup grape

Meal 2: Chick-fil-A 12 piece grilled chicken nuggets, Chick-fil-A superfood side

Meal 3: Smoothie: 2 cups Greek yogurt, 1 cup frozen fruit, 1 cup water, 1 stevia, pureed

Meal 4: 6oz chicken breast, 1 cup rice, 2 cups green beans roasted with olive oil and salt

Meal 5: 16oz skim milk

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